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WASHINGTON, D. C., Tuesday, January 16, 1906. The committee met at 10.30 o'clock a. m.
Present: Senators Millard (chairman), Kittredge, Dryden, Hopkins, Knox, Ankeny, Morgan, Gorman, Taliaferro, and Simmons.
Present, also, John F. Stevens, esq., chief engineer of the Isthmian Canal Commission.
STATEMENT OF JOHN F. STEVENS, CHIEF ENGINEER OF THE
ISTHMIAN CANAL COMMISSION. The Chairman. I will state to the gentlemen of the committee that Mr. Stevens is very anxious to get along with this work and with his other work and to get away to his place at Panama. So I will ask you, Mr. Stevens, to proceed now and give us, in your own way, a history of the conditions at the Isthmus as you found them when you went there and up to the present time. Of course any Senator can ask any questions he may desire. Will you proceed now, Mr. Stevens?
Mr. STEVENS. I arrived on the Isthmus and in the town of Panama on the 26th of July last, and, of course, my first work was to look over the situation in a general way and determine in my own mind what was going on, along what lines, and what they were attempting to do. I found the work divided substantially as it is now-the work of government under Governor Magoon; the work of sanitation, which is also under Governor Magoon, in charge of Colonel Gorgas; and what is know as the bureau of construction and engineering, which was the chief engineer's special province.
Senator HOPKINS. Those were the divisions that were made under the order of the President, were they not, and the Commission?
Mr. STEVENS. Yes, sir. In addition to that there was a bureau of materials and supplies, which was directly under the purchasing agent here in Washington, with an assistant on the Isthmus.
The only bureau, so called, that the chief engineer under the new organization had anything to do with was the bureau of engineering and construction. In other words, of course, he had nothing to do with the governmental duties, nothing to do with the sanitation, nothing to do with the accounts, and nothing to do with the supplies. All the connection that he or his department had with the supplies was simply to make requisitions on them from time to time as they were needed.
Of course only in a casual way can I say anything in regard to the sanitation and the work of all these other departments of which I was not directly in charge. I found a comparatively large force of men, both skilled men (that is, doctors, sanitary people) and laborers, engaged in various kinds of work, most of which was altogether new to me that is, the fight against mosquitoes and filth, particularly against mosquitoes. They were draining swamps and cutting grass and weeds around the camps. They were engaged in clearing away the filth from Panama and Colon and the other smaller towns between, running hospitals, and work of that sort. Their work seemed to me then, and does yet, to be very thorough, and I can only judge, of course, of the value of the work by the results.
As far as supplies and materials were concerned, there seemed to be a decided lack of organization or lack of results. Among the most bitter complaints that I have received, particularly in my department, were as to the impossibility or the impracticability of getting materials when they were called for. And in tracing those reports and complaints down I found they largely originated from the fact that there was no supply of lumber there.
Apparently orders had been placed several months before for large quantities of lumber, but very little of it had been delivered, and it had not come properly classified. . You understand that the greatest use for lumber there, then and now, is for building quarters and houses. A comparatively small amount is needed for anything elsethat is, large lumber, whereas apparently in the shipment of this lumber, which came principally from Puget Sound, they had not taken pains to ship first what was needed first.
That of course threw the building department, which was engaged in repairing the old French houses and constructing new ones and quarters, into a little confusion, all of which it took some time to straighten out; and it has not been until the last forty or sixty days that I can say that the situation in that respect has been fully satisfactory
With regard to other construction materials, I could not find any particular cause for complaint, taking into consideration the distance we were from supplies and the newness, you may say, of the project.
With regard to accounts and pay rolls, they had put in a system of keeping time and making pay rolls that did not seem to be satisfactory. There was altogether too much delay and slowness in paying; the men were dissatisfied—not what I call the gold men; and the “gold men” there are the white men. That is the broad distinction. The silver men are the black men. That is, of course, you understand the plan of the currency, that silver is one to two; and almost all the black laborers (who are practically the only common laborers) are paid in silver, and the whites in gold. A short time after my arrival there, after we had several consultations, a new system was put in force, which for a while did not seem to promise very much better, or in effect to be very much better, than the old.
Senator Knox. Was that distinction in the pay observed where whites and blacks were doing the same kind of labor ?
Mr. STEVENS. Whites and blacks do not, Senator, do the same kind of labor.
Senator Knox. They do not do the same kind?
Mr. STEVENS. Practically, I do not suppose there are ten white common laborers on the work, out of the thousands of employees there.
Senator Knox. Then there is no distinction based on color in respect to the wage, whether it is paid in gold or silver?
Nr. STEVENS. No, sir. There are a few white employees, I believe, that are paid in silver; but the aim has been to have what we call the gold roll the white roll.
Senator Kyox. The distinction is in the character of the labor ? Mr. STEVENS. Yes, sir; the common labor is the silver roll.
Senator DRYDEN. Can you testify as to whether these blacks went to the Isthmus on the understanding and the promise that they would be paid in gold, and, when they got there, found that they were paid in silver?
Mr. STEVENS. I never heard any such statement until I saw it in the newspapers.
Senator HOPKINS. Was there any dissatisfaction among the colored laborers over receiving their pay in silver, to your knowledge ?
Mr. STEVENS. None that I ever heard of. The dissatisfaction was because they were not paid more promptly.
Senator DRYDEN. Was it your understanding, Mr. Stevens, that they being paid in silver, the amount of silver they received was taken into consideration, so that they got the equivalent of their labor that they expected ?
Mr. STEVENS. Of course I do not know what they expected, Senator.
Senator DRYDEN. Well, what they were promised?
Senator TALIAFERRO. Why was the distinction made between gold and silver?
Mr. STEVENS. I could not tell you, sir. That was before my time. It was something that I inherited and found there. I presume it was because silver is the current coin of the realm, and it was decided to be better by the authorities to use that and to encourage the use of it. I do not know any other reason. It is only hypothetical on my part.
The CHAIRMAX. Gentlemen, would it not be better to let Mr. Stevens go right along with his statement, and then, when he is through, for each one ask him such questions as you desire ?
Mr. STEVENS. The new system of accounting and pay rolls went into effect and, as I say, for a while, for several pay periods, it did not seem to be satisfactory; but there was improvement. There was a great deal of complaint; but as the men got more used to it, as the time-keepers and clerks became more proficient, a great deal of improvement has been made, until in the last sixty or thirty days (the sast thirty days especially), I think it is fairly satisfactory. As far as I can see, and as far as my knowledge extends, you understand, the labor roll is paid semimonthly—twice a month. The pay period ends on the 15th and the 30th, or on the 31st, as the month may end; so that really we are paying practically all the time.
Our aim was to get the paying of any period done in at least from seven to ten days after the expiration of the pay day, if it could possibly be accomplished. We are getting down now to very near that, somewhere about ten days, I suppose would be the average—and I think that will compare favorably with the time of payment of any large bodies of men in the world, so far as I know. Of course on railways we only pay once a month, and 90 per cent of the railways employing large bodies of men pay on the 15th-which is fifteen, sixteen, or seventeen days after the end of the pay period, which is the 30th or 31st of the preceding month.
As far as my observation goes now, there is no reason for complaint generally in regard to the time and method of payment. The number of men and accountants might possibly be made less; I only look for results.
In regard to construction and engineering, about all that there was going on, you might say, in the construction of the canal proper was in Culebra cut, so-called. Culebra cut extends from the little town which is called Bas Obispo to Pedro Miguel, covering about 8 miles. I think you can see it on the map there, if you are acquainted with it. Of course in the case, particularly, of a sea-level canal, it will be cut from one end to the other.
What is known as the Culebra cut is the cut through the mountain proper, which extends for about 8 miles—that is, after you leave, going south, the valley of the Chagres River, you follow a branch or a low valley of a branch of the Chagres called the Obispo, and across the summit, and then down what is known as the Rio Grande. But the heavy mountain cutting extends over these 8 miles which I have described, and the heavy part of that is near the town of Culebra; and in this vicinity I found, I believe, 11 steam shovels working. To my idea they were working apparently without very much system. The only part of the plant that was adapted for that sort of work was the shovels. They were first-class new machines first class in every respect.
They had been bought since the American régime; and with the exception of these shovels, the balance of the equipment which was being used was the old French equipment-of which, of course you are all aware, there was millions of dollars' worth on the Isthmus, principally scrap. This old equipment undoubtedly, from a continental point of view, twenty-five or thirty or forty years ago, whenever it was designed, was suited to the time—both the engines and the cars; but as far as doing economical work now is concerned, I do not think I am putting it strongly from my point of view when I say that I would take the money and throw it into the river or put it into the furnace and burn it just as quickly as I would undertake to use it in operating that plant. It is absolutely unsuited for the purpose.
Senator Gorjan. Does that apply to the whole of that equipment?
Mr. Stevens. That applies practically to the whole of the old equipment.
Senator HOPKINS. That was received by this Government from the French Company?
Mr. STEVENS. Yes, sir.
Senator DRYDEN. Have you any means of knowing how much that cost the Government?
Mr. STEVENS. I understand it cost nothing.
Senator Kxox. We bought it all for a lump sum. The act of Congress provided that $10,000,000 should be paid for the rights and for the property that was on the Isthmus and the archives of the company. We just made it a lump sum.
Senator Dryden. I understand Mr. Stevens to say that this worthless machinery, which he has just alluded to, really cost the Government nothing.
Senator Kyox. Whatever the cost was, it was estimated in that forty millions when the Commission originally estimated the value of the property.
Senator GORMAN. A little over three millions.
Mr. STEVENS. I understood it was allowed nothing in the detailed estimate. However, I do not know anything about that.
Of course the question of the Culebra cut is a question of the disposition of the material. In other words, there are so many million tons of freight that must be loaded, must be transported, and must be delivered to the consignee, whether the consignee is in the ocean or whether it is in a dump on the land. That is, it is a problem of transportation. Now the great advance in railroading in the last twenty years, particularly (more than that, but more particularly the last fifteen or twenty years), has been in the direction of heavy train loads and reduction in the cost of transportation, which has been effected very largely through those means. The only way to increase train loads is to increase the weight of your carloads and to increase the weight of your engines—in other words, to increase the net of productive train load.
In the case of these so-called French engines (the majority of them are really Belgian engines, made in Belgium), I do not carry in my mind just what their power is, but I should suppose about six to eight thousand pounds drawbar pull, back tender. A heavy modern freight engine carries a drawbar pull of thirty-five to thirty-six thousand, and a heavy passenger engine, say, twenty-five to twenty-seven thousand, with grades of freight engines running to anywhere from twenty two or three for fast-freight stock trains, etc., carrying refrigerating business, up to thirty-five for the heavier ones.
In other words, these engines down there had a capacity of from one-fifth to one-sixth, say 16 to 20 per cent, of the standard of economical railroading in the United States, where I think probably we handle, and, in fact, I know we handle, freight cheaper than any country in the world.
Senator GORMAN. How many tons would that be to the train load ?
Mr. STEVENS. It depends entirely, Senator, on the grades and the character of the roadbed.
Senator GORMAN. I mean, comparing the two, the Belgian engines and those that you have?
Mr. STEVENS. The Belgian engines will handle, we will say, on a four-tenths grade (which is the maximum grade on a large number of our heavy freight lines in this country) probably 60 to 80 tons, possibly 100 to 125, depending entirely on the character of the road; and the other engines would handle 2.000—from 1,500 to 2,000. I handled as high as 44 cars and 100,000 pounds on each car with an engine not as heavy as I describe, on the Great Northern; but then I had better grades than that.
Senator GORMAN. What is the train load on this road in moving the dirt from the cut?
Mr. STEVENS. We have never made any test of that.
Another thing in regard to the construction of these engines is that they are fitted with what are called rigid wheels. Just imagine that this desk made a box, an absolutely rigid box, not like a basket that will weave a little and give on the inequalities of the track, but a rigid box, with the axles carrying two pairs of wheels fastened on